Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Stay Within Legal Boundaries When Walling Off Apartment Space

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Those who think it's easy and legal to put up a wall in an apartment to create another room are urged by the city building commissioner to think again. NY1's Real Estate reporter Jill Urban filed the following report.

All the time, listings describe a unit as a “convertible” three-bedroom or a “Junior 4.” These terms imply that one can add a bedroom by simply putting up a wall. But most people do not know there is nothing simple about it.

"When the broker says, 'No big deal, just put up a wall and you’ll have a three-bedroom,' it sounds really great. But when you get into that position sometimes, it's not all what it’s cracked up to be," says Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

What the broker may not be sharing is that those temporary pressurized walls are illegal. Putting up a permanent wall requires a permit.

"What you want to make sure is that it is built according to codes. Codes are there to protect you, the people around you and the first responders. And when people don’t do the right thing, innocent people can get hurt," says LiMandri.

Getting a permit is a multi-step process. LiMandri says first a licensed architect or engineer needs to be hired to draw up the plans and file them with the city to get the permit. That can be time-consuming and pricey.

"These fees cost a percentage of the work, in this case probably a couple of hundred dollars," says LiMandri. "But the real fees are from the architects and engineers who do the design and sign off the work when it’s complete. So it could run you $3,000, $4,000."

If a conversion is not done legally, the violations could cost a lot more.

Also, not every room can be legally converted into a bedroom, as the city has specific requirements.

"You want to make sure you have a window so that gives you light and air. You want to make sure it has a door and fixed walls that keeps a fire separation and you want to make sure it’s a reasonable size," says LiMandri. "That, in New York City standards, is approximately an 8x10 room."

The city is making a push to eliminate illegal rooms and is now aggressively looking at listings and doing spot inspections. Anyone who owns a home where a previous owner put up an illegal wall is responsible to legalize it.

To see if a permit was filed for a home or building, or for tips on how renters can spot illegal conversions, visit nyc.gov/buildings.

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